It had been many years since I had “retreated” from my day-to-day life. But during a hectic holiday season , a friend suggested that I consider visiting a quiet, natural setting a few hours from my home. I decided to carve out a long weekend at the beginning of the new year to spend at Christ in the Wilderness.
It was my first visit to CITW and I didn’t really know what to expect. I assumed I would “do” something during this time. Winter was the time of year I could get away, but what would I do in January, with snow blanketing the ground? I asked Sr. Julia what I should do. She suggested I begin by listening to my body. What a novel idea! What would it mean if I actually quieted my mind enough to check in with my physical body? When I sat quietly, with no TV, no phone or other distractions, I could feel how tired and heavy my body felt. In all my “necessary” running around up to this time, I hadn’t noticed that what my body and my busy mind wanted, or actually needed, was rest.
In the morning, with no alarm, I awoke, and enjoyed coffee with the birds at the feeder outside the porch. During the daytime, I prepared my simple meals, went on brief, quiet hikes, and read some books I had wanted to read but never quite got to, including books of poetry. One verse that stayed with me was from the poet Rainier Maria Rilke: “The only journey is the one within.” I saw that I had been spending all my energy looking ahead to the next item to check off on my never-ending to-do list, taking no time to be present and aware in the moments of each day.
In the evening, I went to bed around the time the sun went down. On my first night, my sleep was momentarily interrupted by the starlight pouring in my windows. Living in a suburb of Chicago where the city’s artificial lights interfere with starlight, I have never been awakened by God’s starlight, and it was breathtaking to experience the beauty of the universe in a brilliant night sky. I realized that for the first time in a long time, in this quiet, gorgeous moment, I was fully present, and fully able to appreciate the gift of being.
I didn’t accomplish any major project or “do” anything the world calls important. But in that winter time away, CITW gifted me with a blessed space to slow down, to rest my body and mind, and to simply be. The challenge would be to take this awareness with me when I returned home.
For those looking to enjoy the gift of being, here are a few things that might help.
Instead of thinking about your “to-do” list, you might want to practice using each of your senses in daily activities. For example, you might try to look, listen, smell, taste and feel your surroundings so that you are fully present when you are taking a walk or drive. Rather than being surprised that you have mindlessly arrived at your destination, you might find yourself delighted by the beauty of the world in which we live.